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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

After the Fact

This is the Firozabad 2020 Rotoplast team visiting the the Taj Mahal on an usually clear day following a night of fierce and cleansing thunderstorms.

As we were preparing to leave on March 7, the whole world began to change. We seemed to be “ahead of the curve”. Had our mission been scheduled even a week later, we might not have been allowed to change the lives who so needed those surgeries. In that week after our return, India closed off entry to even to those holding visas, due to the international crisis of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

From THIS:

To THIS:

It appears that life will never be the same.

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Backtracking

In the midst of my daily activities, working to engage patients and their families with activities to take their minds off the very serious business of going into surgery, I did not really stop very often to snap pictures. My focus was to BE with those who were there, as they wove the pot-holders, as they worked the jigsaw puzzles, as they drew with crayons and colored pencils, as I gave them little toy cars, or small stuffed animals. Typically, I was constantly “making my rounds” trying to gauge whether they WANTED to be doing something, or not. Sometimes, just letting a person BE with a smile or hello was more appropriate in the moment. Often I set up at a small table in open view, with crayons, decks of cards, puzzles, dominoes, and they would come over to select an activity.

In post-op, after they returned from surgery, patients were usually a bit groggy coming out of anesthesia and rest was what they needed, not diversion. Sometimes, in those lulls, I played cards with one or two of the staff members. I taught them the game of “Casino”, which I used to play with my Dad. I am sure there were also moments as I was sitting there that I drifted off, but soon enough, there would be another flurry of activity.

Mr. Singh manages the Unity Hospital. He misses his home, where the air is clear and the fields are rich with green sugarcane.

Family members gather in support of those going into surgery.

The 5th floor wards about 25 beds.

A view of the pre-op ward.

Doctors making their morning rounds.

Staff having fun with origami to give to the kids.

Sandra is the President-Elect of the LaVerne Rotary Club. Her role has been to transport patients to and from surgery. She has also pitched in with recreation therapy!

We think we should team up with the host Rotary Clubs (District 3110) to fulfill some items on Unity Hospital’s wish list!

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Full Circle: Closing Ceremony Poem

The circle is now complete.
Lives have been changed.
82 people, 148 procedures.
The slow awakening toward healing
Yields small but noticeable gains:
A smile here, a lift of the head there,
An unbending of once curled fingers,
A freedom of movement for an arm, or two.
Each person now walks back into
Their village, their world, to discover,
However large or small, the meaning
Of the change...some may need to return.

The staff here at Unity Hospital now 
Bears the privilege, the responsibility,
To complete the miracle-- 
We at 5300 and 5320 and Rotoplast,
Team up with 3110, Rotary Clubs here at 
Firozabad and Agra Taj Mahal,
To ensure 
Continuity of contact,
Sustainability of support,
Lifelines of hope.

For skin graftings, weekly dressings for a month,
For fingers wired to prevent recurling, wires removed,
For staples, pulled out, and
For palates, new smiles!

For us, as we wend our way home,
Some of us may return,
ALL OF US will remember ALL OF YOU!

We are all one Rotary International team pledging 
Service Above Self
As we empower those in need.

We have been grateful to all of you
For the opportunity to serve:
Rotary Opens Opportunities!

Thank you !

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Surgeries

My role as Recreation Therapist keeps me busy “making my rounds” as a the patients are waiting for surgery in the preoperation ward, an area on the 5th floor with about 21 basic beds. I have a small table that I keep stocked with puzzles, games, crayons and coloring pages, and little toys. I go about making sure patients are relatively comfortable and happy. There is a wide age range and frequently several family members are present as well. So I interact with patients, siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins….all with the intent to bring a smile to their faces.

Things happen in bursts of activity, as the surgeons come through each morning, the pediatricians ready the patients for surgery, and after surgery, the patients groggily return. I step in during the inevitable periods of waiting. Offering a puzzle, a box of crayons, a wave, a smile…most of the time, nonstop. Sometimes, I get to play with them as they do their activities. Post-op is often time for everyone just to rest.

For the most part, I am too busy to snap pictures…for pictures of the mission, best to visit the official historian’s site: https://rotaplast.org/blog/active-missions/

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Vavita

Vavita’s injuries are profound. A severe burn incident that occurred some 15 years ago has impaired freedom of movement of her head, arms, and hands.

My role as Recreation Therapist is to discern how best to provide some diversion that is entertaining, enjoyable, calming, during the wait before surgery. Sometimes it is just ” being there” with a smile, a gesture, an activity. In the midst of a wide age range, and a wide range of actual movement capability. As an expert mime artist, I enter with a perspective about movement capability. We use the concept of the “kinesphere” to refer to a person’s full range of movement, a repertoire of mime possibilities for practice and performance.

When I first observed Vavita, I was not at all sure I had anything in my bag of tricks that she could do within her personal kinesphere. How wrong I turned out to be!

At Nan Madden’s gentle urging, ” I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” I did.

I had brought a set of brightly colored wooden puzzles with geometrical shapes to be placed on a board to form a picture: a flower in a vase, a steamship, a rabbit, a mandala– seven two-sided boards, 14 pictures in all.

Vavita was delighted when I approached her. The smile that she beamed transcended her condition.

When I placed the puzzles there for her, she immediately understood how it worked and set out independently to complete the first puzzle. I stayed to watch. And I watched her do EVERY one of the puzzle designs in the course of the next 40 minutes.

My fascination was with the dexterity of Vavita’s hand.

As a mime artist, I practice articulating hand movements to produce effects on stage. I draw from how we use our hands in life. When by such injury, a person’s kinespheric repertoire becomes limited, it is amazing to witness the resilience of the body and of the spirit to adapt.

Imagine, if you will, articulating your hand to move with the dexterity of Vavita:

  • Thumb is free to move.
  • Forefinger and middle finger are curled under (as is the pinky finger) able to move side-to-side to grasp and to grasp with thumb and bent forefinger.
  • Ring finger has developed the full dexterity that we usually associate with a healthy forefinger, able to grasp finger to thumb.
  • From the wrist, the whole hand is thrust downward.

This is the permanent position of Vavita’s hand since her accident. Watching her manage the puzzle gave me insight into her determination. She has had to solve EVERY problem of her life with her hand the way it has become. The verve she showed while doing the puzzle is just a glimpse into a daily struggle that she has managed to succeed at. She’s a mother with two children. Her father earns the equivalent of $100/month for the household.

The operation here will free the movement of her head, and release her arms from being frozen to the sides of her body.

An incremental change. Vavita’s hand remains in the same position, with a bit more range of movement of the arms.

She exhudes determination and perseverance. She clearly experienced delight while doing the puzzles, and I suspect, an added delight that I was watching and celebrating with her every inch of the way.

Assisted by her sister in the yellow, Vavita takes her first post-op walk, having had major surgery to free her head and arm movement. As a parting gift, I gave her the wooden puzzle set to take home. An incremental improvement, which may make a big difference in her everyday life.

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Nikhil

Nikhil is a young man with a fetching smile, energetic, very bright. Among the first to arrive, I not only met him, but also his brother, mother, aunt, and grandmother– a feisty family to entertain with puzzles drawing, card games, and a beach ball globe of the world.

Nikhil spoke a bit of English, and gleefully set out to teach me Hindi. He wrote out my name and the alphabet in its Sanskrit-like lettering.

He says his ambition is to become a doctor, but that his hand injury may be an obstacle. He certainly strikes me as clever, charming, and bright enough to overcome any obstacle in his path.

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Why am I Here?: A Personal Prologue

I cannot look at the sad TV ads

I cannot look at the sad TV ads
That show the shivering dogs in mournful
Kennels, or the grandmothers unable
To come in from the cold. I cannot look
At the appeals for money that grab
At my tears and tear at my heart. I turn
The channel, away from cleft lips, palates,
Away from gnarled limbs, misshapen burn scars.

Those ads so crafted to appeal to my
Pity, to make me feel sorry for those
Unfortunate souls due to poverty,
Genetics, accidents, or evil deeds.
Too many diseases to comprehend.
I cannot contain the pain, suffering,
Sorrow-- I cannot give money, I care
From a different place, I ask what to DO!

SPECIFICALLY, what can I do, with my
Life, with my talents, with my gifts, with my
Whole being-- throughout my entire career.
My mission in life has always been to
Figure out, at every juncture in life
Where I can personally contribute
The greatest good where the need is greatest,
Within-- and often beyond-- the bounds of
My abilities, not out of pity
But as a way of being, to uplift,
To look at life through the eyes of those who
Struggle for their own human dignity.
Not to rescue, nor save, but to empower!
Everywhere I have worked for fifty years
And counting, as long as health permits!

But those ads...on this mission, I hate to 
Admit, I felt trepidation, not caused
By some flaw in my inner being, but
From those ads that I cannot bear to view.
I was afraid the realities would
Pull at me and incapacitate me.

False fears. Once here, my true being kicked in!

2020.02.27 Fast forward, screening day.

My role was to escort patients from the long lines to the meeting with the doctors making the final determination. They had met with the surgeons, they had taken their vital signs, now did it all add up to a go for surgery, or not?

I was one of the gatekeepers in their harrowing family journey to get to this point, eyes filled with hope that this next door would open them to the opportunity for a medical miracle.

I did not see a long line of victims. I saw empowered people taking action for what we take for granted, seeking medical care to improve their lives, seeking services they cannot afford directly or through insurance or governmental programs– yes, seeking a medical miracle.

I did not see victims. I saw resilience in action, survivors within their own world in the normalcy they have come to know, taking action beyond existential acceptance, hoping to achieve a new normal, mostly to gain a modicum of improvement to gain access to greater well-being in their lives.

I was not feeling sorry for them; I was feeling ennobled by their perseverance, their patience, their fortitude, as I stood there in my naturally cheerful and colorful presence– I can’t help myself– I smile, I wave, I meet eyes, I gesture to let them know their progress as they advance through the long line. They smile back, they laugh, we break the ice, calm the waters.

I know as a parent, what it is to feel the urgency, the responsibility to get the help my child needs and deserves, how important it is to discover whether the doctors can take my child’s case and if not, explain to me respectfully why not.

I did not see victims. I saw feistiness and smiles overriding despair. We processed 139 cases that first day, accepting about 125. Some were too young yet, some had some underlying health situations making surgery a high risk at this time, some required surgeries that this team was not equipped for at this time. There will be some add-ons and some no-shows. By the end of the two weeks, the team of 3 surgeons will have completed over 100 operations. A medical miracle of skill and stamina!

–And we are all part of it!

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Work STARTS NOW!

Welcome, check-in, organize, have lunch, then get back on the bus to set things up at Unity Hospital.

For me, organize meant collecting all the activities, packing them up in my luggage case, ready to transport to the hospital the following day, for when we start receiving patients in the pre-op ward.

THIS FIRST DAY 2020.02.26

I was assigned to be the Quartermaster’s Apprentice, as troublemaker …errr… troubleshooter, to assist our Mission Quartermaster, Mark Mariscal (who is the current President of the Altadena Rotary Club. Mark and I are colleagues from way back in the 1980s when I was carrying out my MimeWrighting program in hundreds of Los Angeles area schools and doing Mime Theater and Stiltdancing shows for festivals in scores of Los Angeles City Parks. Years later, over a breakfast meeting, Mark and I created the Urban Science Corps, which I directed for ten years as a project of the World Space Foundation. Mark was able to provide us 5 job slots and the use of a 12 foot box van to take our science expeditions to parks everywhere. This program ran for 10 years from 2006-2016, reaching over 15,000 kids. So, working together, shuffling boxes, setting up events, was like old times– this event, however, included setting up a supply room, a break room, a screening area for over 150 applicants, pre-op and post-op wards, a medical records area, …oh, yes… And THREE OPERATING THEATERS for the surgical procedures!
So it’s fitting: I’m still in the theater business!

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Namaste Rotoplast

As we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted by our host, the Agra Taj Mahal Rotary Club (http://agratajmahalrotary.org/).

Namaste means welcome. We were presented with flowers and a traditional Hindu welcoming blessing, the placement of vermilion and rice upon the forehead.

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Rotary in India: Rotoplast

Arriving in India

Everything went smoothly through customs, with only minor hiccups. As we stepped outside, it appeared dark and foggy. We were to discover that the thick fog was actually smog. New Delhi has the dubious honor of being ranked #1 as the WORLD’S most polluted city.

Even though we were traveling as a group being met by representatives from the local Rotary Club, just the walk from the exit to our waiting bus opened us to the encounter with those who “insisted” on helping us with our bags. We had to be equally insistent that we could handle it without help. Unfortunately, I had not yet supplied my pockets with tip money. The only dollars I had were large denominations and the rupees I had were 500 notes, which amounts to about $9. We managed to get to the bus with only minor confusion, standing beneath a street lamp shining diffusely through the smog giving everything a yellowish brown glow.

It now about 5 am, a half hour or so from sunrise. We were told to expect about a five hour drive, first due south to Agra, then due east to Firozabad.

Sunrise brightened the easterly haze. But only as the sun rose higher above the horizon could you see it: a stark red orb through the murky smog. I was accustomed to seeing the sun with such appearance through eclipse glasses or a solar telescope. Here the smog itself provided the filtering medium.

Visibility was only out about fifty yards on either side of the bus, as we rolled by open fields with occasional structures. We saw a number of brick factories with tall active smokestacks.

As we proceeded south toward Agra, visibility improved, but only slightly, which means that the Delhi-Agra smog is one system with a radiant reach of at least 100 miles.

I remember the first time I visited Los Angeles in 1980. The smog was so bad, my eyes streamed with tears and my latent childhood asthma kicked in, coughing like crazy. I never thought I would actually choose to live there and raise a family. Fortunately L.A. air is a lot cleaner now than it was. Governmental clean air policy worked the wonder.

Mid-morning we reached Hotel Parador and we were greeted with great fanfare by Rotarians bearing flowers.